Pittsburgh, PA — As the Duquesne swimming and diving teams returned to campus it offered a friendly warning to its bus driver that the next two-and-a-half hours were going to be loud, after all a first-ever Atlantic 10 title was plenty of cause for celebration.
Though it is clear that the title has not yet sunk in, the smiles certainly have not vanished, something which may not change for a while.
“It was literally just a dream, we were so happy and on cloud nine really,” Duquesne junior Morgan Smith said. “Once we got back to campus, the energy didn’t stop. It was so exciting.”
Wednesday, several swimmers got back into the water as they prepare for the CSCAA National Invitational Championship which will take place Mar. 8-10 in Annapolis, MD.
For those unfamiliar with the meet, it of national caliber and similar to the college basketball’s NIT.
Smith will be joined in the meet by freshman Emma Brinton, sophomores Lauren Devorace, Carson Gross and Heather Svitavsky, juniors Abby Stauffer and Emily Thirion and senior Lexi Santer.
“This is going to be a good opportunity for the kids who maybe don’t swim relay to have their shot and maybe provide us an opportunity to see what we have next year with relay possibilities,” Duquesne swimming coach David Sheets said.
As several of those swimmers were wrapping up Wednesday afternoon practice, Smith and Heather Svitavsky were swimming and high-fived each other in between strokes, a sign of togetherness and the loose nature the team currently possesses.
Wednesday and Thursday’s practices were geared more towards rebuilding and recovery before a more intensive few days. Come next Friday and Saturday, Duquesne will taper.
“I think right now we are trying to stay super positive,” Svitavsky said. “It is really tough coming off something like that, but it’s exciting for all of us and we like traveling to different places. That’s kind of what we are looking forward and Dave is telling us that we will get to do a lot of fun things.”
Approaching the meet
Svitavsky knows that this meet certainly is going to have a different feel to it and that is one reasons she is excited for March to arrive.
“It definitely is a little relaxed,” she said. “I think we are more rigid during A-10’s. Being a lot more relaxed, there is a lot more fun when you swim. There isn’t that much pressure and there is a different kind of swimming that comes when you are relaxed.”
While there certainly is an excitement in the air about the meet, it is the first time Duquesne will be swimming in it, so there is a bit of an unknown.
“I think that’s the learning curve for us,” Sheets said. “This is the first time for us to go to a meet of this caliber and it’s going to be a learning experience for (assistant coach) Megan (Zarriello), myself and the underclassmen that are doing this meet. This will become an expectation with our program. It will be a little different and something we are not used to as a program, but as it becomes a norm, then you establish that norm within the program and it becomes an expectation.”
This meet gives Duquesne a lot of opportunity for swimmers to try to race different lengths or swimming styles that may otherwise not have been experienced earlier in the season while also helping to provide an early look for next season in terms of combinations.
“The one thing I told the girls before they got in the water today was that this was their meet,” said Sheets. “If they want to swim a meet they normally don’t swim and you have a qualifying standard for it, let’s do it. What’s it going to hurt? This year we are not going to try to win a championship down there, I just want these kids to get a meet that is post conference championship.”
Smith joined the majority of the above swimmers at practice Wednesday afternoon (Thirion swam Wednesday morning) where everyone swam the assigned strokes and lengths and sang a little country music in between.
“We’re on such a high that we can’t wait to go and compete again,” she said. “It’s different from other meets but there are a lot of opportunities to swim fast and have fun, be with some teammates and enjoy a good time. There are a lot of girls that are super versatile, so just seeing what everyone can do is really exciting.”
Saturday Duquesne will be recognized during the men’s basketball game for its accomplishments in Geneva, OH and the swimmers could not be any more grateful.
“We are always joking that swimming doesn’t have fans, but I can honestly say we have more fans this year than ever before,” Smith said. “Everyone is super happy and congratulating us calling us a great team and special people.”
“I think it will be great,” echoed Svitavsky. “Swimming doesn’t necessarily get as much recognition as we would probably like, but getting to celebrate with our team again is something we are looking forward to.”
Sheets has received countless emails from faculty members, administrators, university president Ken Gormley, the board of trustees, alumni and texts from several others. Director of athletics David Harper was expected to speak with the team Thursday.
In short, if this is all a dream, then Duquesne certainly does not want to be woken up.
“Our mentality coming into the season was doing what we could to get our times to be faster,” Svitavsky said. “If we did that, then that’s what would win us a championship. We didn’t have that end goal of us winning this year, just to get in and do what we were supposed to do and then getting results from that.”
As Duquesne made the bus trip back home from Geneva, their anthem from the past two years, “That’s My Girl” from Fifth Harmony came over the speakers and everyone joined in the all too familiar lyrics.
“It’s just a Dukes swim song,” said Smith. “Every time we are on the blocks, we say ‘that’s my girl’, we believe in her and she will swim so fast so we will trust in her and believe in her.”